When we hit up Touch Sensitive to find out what his top 10 favourite basslines are – we knew we would get something interesting. As a house / nu disco producer, synth-funk keyboardist and phenomenal bass-guitarist his sense of groove is unparalleled.
So we expected to hear some very hot bassline action, but nothing could prepare us for the epic list that followed. Strap yourself in for a true masterclass in bass, groove, funk and feel. For anyone interested in writing & producing basslines – in any genre – these are 10 techniques you should know.
KW Griff – “Be Ya Girl”
A beautiful example of how sometimes bass isn’t necessary. It makes you wonder what they had and or what they tried whilst putting it together and at the last minute decided to pull it out. But we’ll never know. Another great example of no bass is Prince “When Doves Cry”. So sometimes on rare occasion you don’t need bass, or can create a ghost bassline that’s implied by other parts in the song.
Herb Alpert – “Rotation”
From the 1979 smash hit album “Rise” and the title track being most famously sampled by Notorious B.I.G. Rotation is maybe one of the first machine gun synth bass lines that just hammered home the root note. I think it’s the lack of a back beat that gives the 16th note bass pattern room to breath. It’s around 104 Bpm so it feels deceptively fast, not sure if it’s a delay or if someone actually played the 16th notes for 4 minutes, if so that’s an exercise in stamina for sure.
Cameo – “Candy”
In this first example we see the use of chord tones or the notes that make up the chord played individually (an arpeggio) to form the bass line. This is cool on many levels because it outlines the tonality of the chords but also exemplifies how a simple concept with the right rhythmic placement of those notes works, while it also leaves space in the track for other elements. Bear in mind that this track came out in the mid 80s when the systematic robotic tightness was a thing.
So the concept here being approaching a baseline using only the notes in the chord ie. no passing or chromatic notes. The exception in this example being that in the last phrase Aaron Mills descends chromatically from the last chord in the progression (Bmin) to the first chord of the pattern (Gmaj).
Steve Harvey – “Tonight”
I distinctly remember finding this 12” and I played it every chance i got when I was DJing in bars. I’m 100% positive that the bass on this is a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, however you can get very close to it using Analog in Live with both Oscillators set to sawtooth and fed to the same filter. What really makes it thick and snappy in conjunction with the Unison mode is use of a fast filter decay time and a longer sustain on the Amp envelope. This way you can achieve the tight snap but also be able to hold longer notes when need be without losing body of the sound.
This sound is probably my default bass sound I make when I touch a synth, if I can make it do this (and it’s nothing fancy) then I feel like I’ll be happy with it, it’s mostly just a test of how snappy the envelopes are. This kind of approach also works well with arpeggiated sounds.
Godford – “Saw You”
Some could argue that a drone bass is lazy but sometimes it’s all that’s required. It also leaves space for other rhythmic elements that otherwise wouldn’t work to work. Another thing to consider is the tempo. For example, machine gun 16th’s like in the Herb Albert track would be outrageous! But it worked there because there was enough space between the notes. In this instance the drone allows the emotion of the vocals to come through. Another thing to remember is there’s no chords in this one, just implied ones with the bass so effectively they could have taken it anywhere.
“Alright” – Jamaroquai
There’s something about octaves that always gets me when they’re done right. And Zender always did it right. But in this case I think it’s extra special. When you ascend in octaves up the minor it’s got a special thing and this tune being all minor chords it pumps in that way. In the chorus the bass line is extended beyond root octave to root third, then in the bass break it goes to root third and then the fifth.
So it’s really all the power notes of the chord that define the tonality of the song, combined with the power of the octave. Yet another example of expanding on a simple concept but then again that’s the complexity of it. It’s also worth noting that in the bass break the synth that does the squiggle part during the verses actually combines forces with the live bass in the breakdown. It’s an example of when you’re looking for another part – maybe it’s already there and you just need to double it… Zender is extremely tasteful.
Syclops – “Where’s Jasons K”
All of Maurice Fultons stuff has cool bass and this is a prime example, I love how the bass is the lead for a while or the main theme and it has a vintage sequencer feel ie just not on note off on a grid, no automation or fancy tricks just a clever idea and then it switches up to the triplet feel in the 3rd bar to give it that tripping over feeling only to resolve back to the 16ths. The title of the track is hilarious too.
52nd street – “Can’t Afford (to let You Go)
Hard electro. I love it when a bass line leaves the 4th beat open for the snare or the clap to pop through, house baselines that leave the 4 open are equally as exciting to me and work best on a 1 or 2 bar pattern. And here we are again with all the available voices on the synth in unison with regard to the bass sound.
Advance – “ Take me to the top”
From the creators of FUN FUN this jam is more on the Boogie side of Italo Disco than the machine gun style some would mostly come to associate it with later in the picture, this one is close to my heart! A healthy amount of resonance on the synth bass and the slides using the pitch wheel or bender bar at the end of the phrase are awesome, At around 4:25 it really tickles my fancy when the real bass steps out a bit more from behind the synth bass.
Greg Diamond & Bionic Boogie – “Chains”/ Aphrohead“Kazoo”
Another example of Octaves but this time in reverse with the higher octave on the down beat and the lower octave on the upbeat. When I first heard this on the Greg Diamond & Bionic Boogie Record “Chains” my mind was blown. The concept of playing octaves in reverse….. Learning to play it was fun too, it kind of creates a chugging forward motion (I have a dance move to match).
Similar to the “traditional” octave pattern but a bit more punk, the Felix Da Housecat version as Aphrohead “Kazoo” is also stomping. I ‘m not sure if it’s synth bass on the original or just electric bass with some fuzz or both, the original is from 78 so by no means too early for synth bass, either way it’s killer.
Senyaka – “Don’t Judge Me Bad”
Lastly I think this one is important because it goes against everything they teach you in school.But it’s actually what takes place in nature. With the bass being hard panned to the right of the stereo field where as normally it would be in the centre – but if you we standing on the stage this is what you’d be hearing. In this instance it still works, panning the bass hard right.